“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
Today is one of those days when I need to revisit that quote. It’s been a year full of those days, to be honest. I may not always win, but at least I’ve put myself out there, which is more than many can say.
Creating things for a living is like running a marathon. It requires long, lonely hours in training, and the event itself is no different. It can be alternately difficult and euphoric. You might be part of a pack, but the people around you are focused on their own work, even if they’re not competitors. Some of the people along the route might be there to cheer for you, but most are there to support lend support to other people. The crowd isn’t there for you, but they’re supportive of the idea of the thing, and you can tap into that energy. If you stumble, others will usually help steady you, so long as you’re not likely to bring them down, and you’ll do the same for them, because you both get it. Rarely, people who don’t get it will throw things at you or try to trip you for no reason other than they seem to think it will be funny. If you go down, you get up and keep moving, even if you’re wounded.
It’s about the journey, right? It’s not the destination, because as a professional creative that finish line doubles as the next starting line. Whether you’ve finished a painting, cooking a dish, writing a novel, marketing a product, whatever you do, as soon as that one thing is done, you start training again, preparing and planning for the next one. It never stops. Not because you need to keep working to make money, although there’s always that reality. No, you never stop because being creative is what you do, it’s who you are. It never stops.
Like a marathon runner, you’re not being creative for the benefit of other people. You do it for you. People might like what you do, they might think what you do is stupid, they might be completely indifferent toward what you do or have no awareness of you and your work whatsoever. It doesn’t matter. You question whether it’s worth it, you wonder if you’re wasting your time, you might feel ignored, unappreciated, undervalued, mocked, sick, tired, and depressed. You pause, sometimes for a longer time than others. You reflect, you rethink things, you reset your goals, you think about walking away, you walk away, you vow to move on with your life. Then you come back and you start again. You always start again. You don’t get a choice.